Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Last Flight Home

When you fly 15+ legs per trip, they tend to run together. Every flight has a familiar rhythm to it, reinforced by standardized procedures for each phase. Unless something unusual happens, they are often forgotten by the end of the day. I write on my trip key to keep track of my landings, instrument time, instrument approaches, etc; otherwise there's no way I'd remember enough to update my logbook.

The last leg of the trip has a different dynamic to it, though. Most of our trips are four days long, so by the end you're definately ready to go home, and you're grateful that after this flight you don't have to so much as think about airplanes for a few days. You're tired after four days and just want some time to recuperate. Then you'll by able to spend time with your spouse & family, get things that need done around the house, enjoy your free time.

Ontime performance is paramount on the last leg. Many crews try to depart 10 minutes early if all the passengers have shown up on time. Delays morph from nonevents into grating annoyances into personal affronts. When it's taking a long time to load cargo or confirm the passenger count, you look upon the station personnel with suspicion: They don't care that they're cutting into my free time! ATC delays: C'mon, it's like this controller knows it's the last leg! Major weather deviations: Great, now God hates me too. Particularly infurating are delays right at the end of the flight - when the final approach is inexplicably stacked up for 20 miles, or when you sit on a taxiway waiting for an open gate.

In General Aviation, this attitude has a name: Get-There-Itis. It's a major factor in accidents in the GA world. It's a credit to airline pilots that they don't let anxiousness to get home interfere with their professionalism or judgement. NTSB research has found that rather few airline accidents occur on the last day of a trip (the first day is most common).

After the parking checklist is complete, you suddenly realize that there's nothing left to do but clean up, grab your stuff, and go. Few crewmembers waste any time in doing just that. The end of the trip has a rhythm of it's own: walking through the airport, taking the crew bus to the employee lot, trying to remember where I parked my truck four days ago, admiring the sailboats on the Columbia as I cross the Glenn Jackson Bridge into Washington, checking up on the herd of sheep in the field as I turn onto my street, and finally turning into my driveway. I'm home! I don't have to even think about flying for another three days! Well, other than updating my blog, of course. :-)


Dave Starr said...

Not sure if you know how much us haven't been/never will be/and or wanna bees like these what it feels to be on an airline crew posts. Thanks for taking the time to write.

I've read thousands of accident reports ... it's a weird hobby, I know. You are quite correct that the "last leg" press on against all odds syndrome is normally successfully resisted by professional crews but there have been some notable exceptions. American 1420 at KLIT being a relatively recent prime example. It's still well worth guarding against, consciously, no matter the type of iron or the mission profile flown.

Aviatrix said...

Four days on, three days off, AND you have thigh bolsters on your seats?!

Someday, someday. I was done at 5 pm today, and I have tomorrow morning off, so there is rest for the weary.

Flightfire said...

" I'm home! I don't have to even think about flying for another three days!"

Interesting departure from what I expect a lot of prospective pilot's think about their prospective careers. I read your blog to get my flying fix since I am currently grounded, and it's nice to see a post taking the perspective that flying is not always fun, adventure, and games. Thanks.

Sam said...

flightfire - I think that's generally the difference between "prospective pilots" & those who are flying the line.

It's not that I dislike my job, I love it. I still enjoy the flying a lot. It's just that there comes a point at which you've had more than enough for one week.

And yeah, Avatrix, I know. 4 day trips aren't really anything to gripe about compared to many pilots' schedules. On the other hand, when I flew FAR135 freight I was home almost every night, which makes a big difference.